To determine if the Office of Mental Health (OMH) has effectively addressed the findings and recommendation related to benefits advisement in the New York State Employment First Commission report. The audit covers the period March 1, 2015 through January 13, 2021.
About the Program
Working-age New Yorkers with disabilities participate in the work force at a rate of less than half that of people without disabilities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey (ACS). In 2018, there were approximately 1 million working-age adults (ages 21-64) with disabilities in New York State. The employment rate of working-age people with disabilities was about 33 percent compared to about 75 percent for people without disabilities. Further, ACS data shows that New Yorkers with disabilities are more than twice as likely to live in poverty.
The New York State Employment First Commission (Commission), established by Executive Order 136 and comprised of representatives from several State agencies, issued a report (Report) in March 2015 with the main goal of increasing the employment rate of individuals with disabilities by 5 percent while also decreasing their poverty rate by 5 percent. One way the Report recommended this be achieved was by improving benefits advisement services to assist all individuals with disabilities in making informed decisions about going to work. Specifically, the Commission tasked OMH, in partnership with other State agencies, with implementing an interactive web-based platform to provide accurate information and benefits calculators so individuals with disabilities could better assess how work would impact their benefits, and developing a life coaching network available to all individuals with disabilities seeking economic self-sufficiency.
OMH designed and launched a benefits advisement system named the Work Incentives Navigator and Reports (WINR) application to address the Report’s benefits advisement recommendation. However, OMH has not fully addressed all aspects of the recommendation.
- WINR does not contain certain recommended components including an interactive benefits advisement calculator, automated life coaching communications, and information regarding certain additional benefits such as nutritional and housing assistance, as suggested in the Report.
- Since WINR is only available to individuals working with an employment services provider, many individuals with disabilities who would likely benefit from WINR services do not have access to the application.
- OMH has not taken steps to assess the effectiveness of its email notification system. Active system customers may not be receiving notifications on important benefits for which they may be eligible, as notifications are delivered only via email and less than half of the 40,000 WINR customers were found to have a valid e-mail address in the application.
- Formally assess the current benefits advisement system and make improvements, where possible, to address the Report’s recommendation. The assessment should consider key system features recommended in the Report.
- Develop a network of professional life coaches who are educated in public benefits and work incentives for individuals with disabilities; collaborate with other State agencies as necessary.
- Expand access to WINR to include all individuals with disabilities, including those who are not currently working with an employment services provider; collaborate with State agencies and other external entities as necessary.
- Capture historical notification data for analysis and assessment of the effectiveness of WINR notifications, making improvements to the notifications process as applicable and collaborating with other State agencies as necessary.
State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Brian Reilly
Phone: (518) 474-3271; Email: [email protected]
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236